Satire often writes itself, as witnessed by the Nobel Peace Prize handed to a troubled European Union in the midst of protests over austerity in Athens and Madrid. The award certainly runs Henry Kissinger a close second in the farce stakes. With all the turmoil going on you’d have thought the EU might be a tad embarrassed to take its’ creaking economic model on tour.
Especially to Africa, which boasts at least six of the top ten fastest growing economies in the world. But no, Brussels bureaucrats are on a mission to convert Africa, waving the bible of trade liberalisation and carrying the cross of austerity to save sub-Sahara from the eternal hell-fire of economic self-sufficiency.
The battleground is the new Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) Europe is trying to strike with the developing world. Former Tanzanian president Benjamin William Mkapa (pictured) had this to say about it:
“If we sign the EPA and other sub-regions do so too, we would be giving up the better option we had before us, which allows for real industrialization.”
Europe is accused of pushing deals to carve open the economies of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries with a prescription of liberalisation that has “far-reaching implications on the economic, social and cultural rights” for the developing world.
For some it’s same the old International Monetary Fund broth masquerading as an equal partnership. ‘You – the developing countries – take down all your trade tariff barriers and we – the rich nations – might just let a few of your goods in… but we’ll still keep our walls high, especially to repel processed, packaged and manufactured goods.’
The “better option” Mkapa refers to is, of course, China. They might have a Cookie Monster appetite for oil and other natural resources but you’ve got to hand it to the Chinese, they deliver investment and development aid on time with no funny business. And, unlike much of Europe, China’s economy is actually booming.
Despite a decade-long debate over China’s growing influence in Africa, Europe appears singularly unable to shake off the urge to bully their former colonial subjects and tie-up ‘deals’ in a mass of conditionality strings which impose European values.
On the economy it’s a case of ‘do things our way and fit into our world trade model designed to preserve Western advantage’, while European attitudes to democracy are similarly underpinned by notions of cultural superiority and shameless about the blatant hypocrisy of their position. And yet the still EU slap their foreheads in exasperation every time they get accused of colonial attitudes.
The European approach is as far beyond satire as the award of the Nobel prize. And the mental inability to change – even in light of China’s competition – condemns Europe to lose out in deals with ACP countries. With Brazil and India catching up on the inside track, it won’t be long before Europe are a distant fourth choice for Africa and the Caribbean.
‘Shove your EPA there’s a better offer on the table… three better offers as a matter of fact’, Africa will soon be able to tell Europe. ‘Oh, and by the way sorry to hear about your economic flu over there in Europe… it’s been going on so long you really do need to see a doctor about it. And if you don’t stop trying to impose your will on the developing world I’d strong suggest you see a head-doctor too.’
By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway